Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Stranger at the gate?
Seeing the man again at the gate to this year's Dodge Poetry Festival startled me, partly because I had not seen him since we drove him home from the last festival two years ago, and partly because he looked so thin.
Whereas I had reviewed his poetry as part of my newspaper coverage, his appearance had always defied the stereotype of poet. He did not have the feminine features so commonly painted over poets by the general public. Indeed, Jack looked more like what the public might think of as a truck driver with a rugged face that would have made the U.S. Marines proud -- features overly emphasized in September 2002 by his loss of weight.
Like most poets I reviewed, Jack didn't always agree with my interpretations of his work. But he told me often my opinions made him think.
Until our last encounter at the 2000 Dodge, we had remained professional acquaintances, each of us nodding as we passed each other on the streets of
Hoboken or Jersey
Then, we found him wandering the muddy paths of
the last day of the 2000
Dodge. He was searching for an editor friend of his who had promised him a ride
back to the city. When his plight became clear to us, we agreed to give him a
ride home -- since we lived then only a few blocks from the apartment he
Perhaps inspired by the weekend of poetry, we found ourselves talking literature the whole ride back -- with brief bios as to where we had grown up, and from what past we derived our inspiration. In watching him wander away from our car after dropping him off in the city, I felt a connection with him that I described as spiritual.
He must have felt as much because seeing us two years later, he greeted us as old friends. When I asked if he would be reading at the Dodge this year, he shook his head.
"No," he mumbled, "I'm only working here this year. But it feels good to get out, even if it makes me weak. I have to sit down a lot."
Jack told us he had moved out of the city and to his hometown in central
an unbearably peaceful place he had struggled most of his life to escape.
"The town is a mile square," he said. "It has lots of Victorian houses, and the houses are full of families. You can't see a yuppie anywhere."
He said he had moved back home to recuperated and that even as he stood at this year's Dodge, he had just recovered from a bout of pneumonia.
"I miss the city," he said. "I miss being about to go out in the middle of the night for a cup of espresso. I miss the noise you hear all night."
Then, overcome with weariness, he had to sit and fell back into a chair someone had provided for him as others took up his duties collecting tickets.
"I miss the people," he said, and predicted a time when he would feel up to returning to our part of the world. "I'm getting stronger every day. You wouldn't know it to look at me, but I've gained weight. I was down to 90 pounds for a while. And I've been below detection for seven months."
We wished him well and then moved onto the grounds. Yet I could not stop thinking of him or that long ride home two years earlier when we had shared our artistic visions, and whether or not we would see him again at the next Dodge, or would we have to stir him up out of the ashes of his poetry?
Back from the dead Wiler's poetry deals with struggle to survive
For poet Jack Wiler, the decade since his previous book has been a struggle between life and death - literally.
"I had a sense that spiritual beings were watching over me, and that I was being given a choice. I could choose to live or die, and I chose to live," Wiler said during a recent interview.
Four years ago, Wiler was diagnosed with AIDS, a moment that changed his life as well as his poetry. "I had no health insurance, and I didn't feel sick, so I didn't go to a doctor," he said.
It was a huge mistake, eventually causing massive loss of muscle tissue and a journey close to the edge of death. While his new book, "Fun Being Me," published by CavenKerry Press, is not entirely about his near-death experience, many of the new poems have been touched by the angel of death, giving them a significantly different flavor from poems published in his first book, "I Have No Clue." The humor in his new book has an edge, a sense of having come through Hades and back. "The bulk of these were written between 1998 and 2004," Wiler said.
Although a resident of
for most of his adult life,
he grew up in Wenonah, N.J, to which he returned during his illness. Hudson
Angels in Wiler's life
The new book, Wiler said, is about redemption, about finding spirituality and a larger purpose in life. "I came back from death," he said. "When I got sick, I had hallucinations where I saw angels and demons. I can't see the film Angels in
It's too close to reality for me." Going home provided him with
perspective about why he had left, saying it was a good place to grow up or
raise children, but not a good place for him. "I need the city. I need to
be around Spanish and black people. I don't want to have to drive 45 minutes to
get Indian food," he said.
In poems such as "Dream at the Gate to Hell," Wiler explores this near death experience in a series of metaphoric images that combines his battle with illness with the geography of his upbringing. The work recalls the sounds and sights of rural and urban
Jersey, from the "boom, boom of a manhole
cover" to "a stream in summer filled with floating turtles." In
another poem, "Flying Under Duress," Wiler resists death, "I
wasn't ready to go. I wasn't ready to die. I wasn't ready to jump off
roofs," he writes.
He also talks about how life and work ought to be. "People don't die working the copiers. If the door opens there's a floor on the other side. The worst thing about work is that it's boring. Not frightening." Wiler is often funny, but his talent lay in the ability to use metaphor to convey dual meanings. And although each poem seems to take death seriously, you can hear Wiler chuckling in the background as well, as if after coming out the other side he mocks the devil from his new found safety.
A working writer
A serious writer since 1978, Wiler is best known locally for serving as editor for six years on the Hoboken-based Long Shot Magazine, through which he worked with some of the best contemporary poets, including
Danny Shot and Bayonne's Herschel
Silverman. Wiler also visits schools in New Jersey
as a visiting poet for the Geraldine Dodge Foundation, and has been a featured
poet at its every-two-year Waterloo Poetry Festival in Stanhope, as well as
serving as a group leader for the Foundations seminars for high school
"Jack Wiler's poems are rock-bottom genuine, totally direct, and disarmingly moving. He's the Nazim Hikmet of
his poems are full of great love for the broken world, great love for his
fallen fellow human beings, and great rage at the inequity of things,"
wrote Mark Doty, one of the most distinguished of contemporary American poets.
Typical of his wit, Wiler said he was pleased with the quote, but said he had to look up what Nazim Hikmet meant.
Hoboken to 33rd
While sick, Wiler never stopped writing. He set himself the task of writing a poem a day during his daily work commute to
"At first I wrote about riding to work, then after a while I started
writing about other things," he said. Wiler didn't want the book to only
focus on his disease; it was his editor who asked for more material on that
aspect. His editor then reshaped the structure of the book in a way that amazed
"I had intended to present the poems in chronological order," Wiler said. "The book is in five parts - like acts or musical movements - each one mirrors the other so that when you read one section, you get a sample of the whole book. I was surprised. It makes me look good. I think of it as a work of art." For the perpetually self-effacing Wiler, this is high praise indeed, and has inspired him to consider possibly staging the work in the future.
Jack Wiler's new book "Fun Being Me" is available now. For more information on the writer, visit: www.jackwiler.com.
Poet Jack Wiler dead at 57
Jersey City/Hoboken-based poet Jack Wiler once claimed he had come back from the dead. This was because he had been diagnosed with AIDS and, lacking health insurance, failed to get it treated early, causing massive loss of muscle tissue and a journey that brought him close to death.
On Oct. 20, Wiler died at 57, leaving behind a legacy of quality literature that included a poetic account of his battle with AIDS.
"I had a sense that spiritual beings were watching over me, and that I was being given a choice. I could choose to live or die, and I chose to live," Wiler said during an interview with the Hudson Reporter in 2006.
Friday, January 17, 2014
Although most politicians - Republican and Democrat - in the state fear him too much to take him on as U.S. Attorney, Christie made plenty of enemies on his way to the top - not because he was a mean person, or even corrupt, but because he always stuck to his guns and often said things that were politically uncomfortable to those around him.
Perhaps this is best reflected in his belief that political corrupt criminals are worse than criminals on the street because street thug never pretend to be anything than what they are.
In some ways, Christie's career mirrors Abe Lincoln in that he started at a little known lawyer and had a quick and remarkable rise to power.
Nominated by President George W. Bush on Dec. 7, 2001, Christie was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate two weeks later, and sworn in as U.S. Attorney on Jan. 17 by Judge Joel Pisano for a four year term.
As the head federal cop in the state, Christie runs offices in Newark, Trenton and Camden employing 136 lawyers. He works with the FBI, DEA, AFT, Secret Service, Immigrations and Customs enforcement as well as with the Postal Inspector.
Christie is among the most powerful U.S. Attorneys in the county, and is one of 17 who serve as Ashcroft's Committee on Terrorism.
Christie began his legal career in 1987 when he joined the firm Dughi, Helwitt & Palatucci - a firm with significant political connections in both parties in the state and federal government.
Christie passed the bar for New Jersey and US District Courts just prior to his being hired. In 1993, Christie became a partner in the firm.
From the beginning of his career, Christie took a Republican political road, using charities as a way of hobnobbing with the elite. He became a member of the board for United Way of Morris County, a member of the Family Services of Morris County, and a member of the Morris County Board of Social Services. He also served a chairman of the Morris County Insurance Commission.
Until 2001, he served as Vice Chairman of the Christie Family Foundation, established in 1999 in what may have served as a fundraising vehicle for the election of Bush as President. Christie's withdrawal from the foundation coincided with two events, his appointment as U.S. Attorney, and charges of Stock Market front running filed against his brother Todd by Elliot Spitzer - after which Christie's wife served as vice chairman.
Christie also served on the board of trustees for Day Top Village drug treatment facility from 1998 to 2002 and once claimed Day Top did the most important work in the state.
"No life is disposable," Christie said in this regard.
Christie and his brother Todd, both met their future wives while attending the University of Delaware, from which Christie graduated in 1984 before attending Seton Hall School of Law where he graduated just prior to passing the bar in 1987. Christie received a presidential citation for outstanding student achievement.
He and his wife, Mary Pat Foster, have four children. She was the daughter of a big shot in the stock market. Christie was born in Newark, but was raised in Livingstone, and made his married home in Mendham.
Christie is very closed to his brother Todd and sister Dawn Clark.
His mother Sondra died on May 3, 2004 at 71. She was born in Newark, but moved out of the city when Christopher was born so he could attend school elsewhere.
Like his brother, Todd, Christie is an avid Bruce Springsteen fan and a regular party animal. He also was diehard fan of the New York Mets.
In his senior year in Livingston High School, Christie got his first taste of public office when he serves as class president, although he had earlier at age 14 volunteered for the primary campaign of Tom Kean, Sr.
Some critics of Christie claim he refused to follow the social rules that most good Republicans used to advance up the political ranks.
His own legal partner, Palatucci once called Christie "Crushingly abrasive."
Christie refused to volunteer or civic events or take appoints to various boards. Instead, he used his wife's money and ran for Freeholder.
He was elected in 1994 and served one term from 1995 to 1997, then was rejected by his own team because no one would run with him.
He allegedly because unpopular because he made claims that the other freeholders were corrupt, but later apologized to them for false accusations. He was involved in two lawsuits over election ads, one in which he sued, and other in which someone sued him. While in office, he cut patronage and resuded freeholder salaries, although very conservative Morris County tended to use rich social circles as a means of raising money so pay to play was not a large problem there in the first place.
Christie's rival was a freeholder named Murphy.
Unlike other counties, Morris County has no political bosses so that they have open primaries.
Christie's wife's money helped him beat an incumbent freeholder in 1994, but could not propel him into the state Assembly in a 1995 race.
Christie did get a county code of ethics passed, barring gifts to office holders and established a competitive bid process.
In 1997, he was dumped from the ticket, and though he got a job as the clerk for the freeholder board, his real political involvement centered on lobbying for and raising funds for the election of George W. Bush as president and to some minds, was rewarded for his efforts by being appointed U.S. Attorney in 2001.
Christie frequently met with Dale Florio, a big Republican fundraiser, and Richard Bond, former chairman of the state Republican Party, often through the efforts of Christie's legal partner, Palatucci. Christie first met bond during the 1992 campaign season when Christ serves as a volunteer on Bush Senior's campaign.
They were often seen at Lorenzo's Restaurant where they chatted while puffing on large cigars. Christie also kept in touch with Republicans through a Pfizer Program.
In 2000, Christie served as Bush's campaign counsel for New Jersey. Bush liked to call hi "Big Boy," because the Christie family managed to raise a lot of money.
In July 1999, Bush skipped a trip to a day care center in heavily Democratic Newark to meet with supporters at a hotel near Newark Airport. Christie was among the 1,000 people who greeted the soon-to-be president. In that election, Christie raised more than $300,000 for Bush.
In 2003, Bush even came to Morris County, where he had overwhelming support in his 2000 run for president.
Christie's appointment as U.S. Attorney in 2001 was a surprise because he had no experience as a federal prosecutor.
Christie's appointment did not go without question especially by the New Jersey Federal Bar Association.
His whole legal career was in civil law with a concentration of securities law and appellate practice. This was ironic considering the fact that his brother was driven from his job on Wall Street by charges of irregularities for which his company later paid a hefty federal fine.
Todd is the ghost in the machine, and the power behind Christie's fundraising success. Todd, was chief executive office of Spear, Leed & Kellogg and was even nominated to serve a term on the New York Stock Exchange board of directors before he suddenly resigned. He said the resignation was for personal reasons. But Spitzer had raised allegations of front running, which is making personal deals ahead of the clients. His firm was fined $240 million and the matter evaporated.
While no firm connection was ever established between this front running activity and funding of President Bush's campaign, the Christie Family charity - which Todd funded in cash deposits - suddenly ceased to see the massive amounts of money that went through it.
Republicans frequently use such charities as a means of raising political funds. The Christie Family Fund frequently donated to other charities connected with prominent republicans, who in turn were very generous to the Bush Administration. While the fund remained active after Todd's leaving Wall Street, it appears to have ceased active operations after the 2004 Presidential election, indicating that it was no longer needed to make contacts with other prominent Republicans.
The scandal, however, may have derailed Christie's own political aspirations since he had once been touted to run for New Jersey governor. But apparently, prominent Republicans used this to edge him out of the running in favor of Tom Kean, Jr.
Christie's record of accomplishments has become more and more clouded with the recent allegations of U.S. Attorneys being fired elsewhere in the county. Did the White House order U.S. Attorneys throughout the county to target prominent Democratic candidates?
If other U.S. Attorneys were fired for disobeying such instructions, can we assume Christie - who is very loyal to Bush - obeyed willingly?
This may explain the batch of Christmas gift investigations currently being conducted and the strange investigation of U.S. Senator Robert Menendez during a critical election last year.
Saturday, January 11, 2014
For Amiri Baraka
My son throws a stone at an Israeli tank
Their bulldozers roll in to knock down my house
Settlements rise in its place, full
of splashing swimming pools
While my family seeks water to
I buy a knife, a gun, a bomb
Then set out to kill their sons in
the market place
I kill their sons, they kill mine
For what? A stone? A house? A drink
Bushwhacked at Waterloo
This article was re-written from the
original partly because of new facts learned after its original posting.
Governor Jim McGreevey and the New Jersey Arts elite attacked poet Amiri
Baraka for a passage of a poem he read at the Dodge Poetry Festival in
McGreevey -- who is hardly a freedom of speech advocate and who earlier in
the year tried to clamp down on information journalists might have access to
(making New Jersey the most restrictive state for public information in the
country) -- demanded Baraka's resignation as New Jersey Poet Laureate.
McGreevey has been deluged by pro-Israel groups to remove Baraka after
Baraka questioned whether or not Israel knew of before hand of the attack on
the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 and deliberately ordered its citizens
to stay away from the buildings.
Baraka's information came via web sites that had previously been proven to
contain misinformation concerning Iraeli communications with New York. Slate
Magazine had investigated the accusations and found they were part of a
campaign to tie the Israeli government to the attack on the World Trade Center
(see link below).
Although Governor has no power to remove Baraka -- and Baraka has refused
to leave the post -- McGreevey could eliminate the position for which Baraka
receives $10,000 per year.
Baraka's remarks came in the middle of a poem several hundred lines long,
part of a questioning process as to who knew what about the attack. He is not
the only one. Internet webpages have cropped up over the last several months
noting other irregularities about the events of Sept. 11.
McGreevey's spokespeople blasted Baraka with the assumption that the poet
knew the information was false when he included in the poem.
Or even if Baraka's had exercised poetic license.
McGreevey's office and officers from
the state's art's council accepted an anti-Semitic spin on the lines, although
Baraka said he was questioning the Israeli government, not the Jewish people.
His lines run as follows: "who knew the World Trade Center / was gonna
get bombed / Who told 4,000 Israeli workers at / the Twin Towers / to stay home
Jewish writers in response a previous version of this article claim that
these lines are anti-Jewish despite their lack of mention of Jews.
What makes the lie believable to many people is the history of Israeli
relationships with the United States, in which information has been withheld
and in fact, an agent of Israeli intelligence has been convicted of spying on
the United States.
McGreevey, unfortunately, may be under pressure from numerous New Jersey
political figures, who activive support of the Israeli government.
Charles "Shai" Goldstein, of the Anti Defamation League labeled
Baraka's remarks "a pernicious anti-Semitic lie."
Baraka offered no apology, claiming that the U.S. Government was well aware
of the attack before it happened. Baraka believes the United States and others
are seeking to use the attack as an excuse to crack down on unfriendly
governments in the Middle East. Similar theories were raised after Pearl
Harbor, suggesting that then President Roosevelt had allowed the military base
to be attacked so as to win public support for America's entry into World War
Two. The big difference here, however, is the anti-Jewish spin that has been
used against Baraka.
Jane Braillove Rutkoff, executive director for the New Jersey Council for
the Humanities -- a person that should be protecting Baraka's freedom of
speech, also came out against him, calling his statements counter to the
mission of the council. This, of course, leads us to wonder, what mission the
council is on, it not to promote an artist's right to create.
I have taken the position that firing Baraka is considered censorship,
because he made a political statement. Numerous others disagree. I have
included links to two New York Times stories as well as the definitive Slate
article on the web hoax.
I hate the concept of “what comes around; goes around,” partly because karma is a lot like one of the great laws of physics: for every action there is an equal and opposite action.
Wishing ill even on bullies, tends to create a sphere of negative influence for the wisher as well as the wished.
So the scandal involving Gov. Christie and the alleged misuse of the Port Authority for political retribution leaves me a tough place and makes me wonder just what the hell he was thinking.
We all have to be more than just a knee jerk reaction to things we like or dislike, and that a large part of being civilized is self control. A person who resists the urge to create instant karma in others has real power.
I keep thinking of that scene in Schindler’s List, when Schindler tells the Nazi that real power is the ability to have it, and choose not to misuse it, not to give in.
Perhaps I feel sorry for Christie because I am so much like him in some ways – not in the political opportunistic way, but in the personal need to tell every jerk I see in the world how big a jerk they are, regardless of the circumstance.
I relate to that poor fool that put himself in front of the Chinese tanks in
Tiananmen Square, knowing that my
personal power cannot possibly match the wrath of the world, but I do it
anyway, simply because someone needs to object to wrong things, even when they
are impossible to stop.
Like Christie, I can’t stop from reacting. This got me in trouble with countless bullies in the mostly white high school my family sent me to after I got in so much trouble confronting street gangs in Paterson as a kid. I recall on very large tackle from the first string of the football team throwing a school desk at my head (and missing).
But there is a huge difference between me and Christie.
I have no political motivation. My idea of person power comes out of the martial arts training I had when younger in which personal strength comes from within, not from those who endorse me. I am like a stone in a road that the tanks must steer around or go over, but I won’t go away.
Christie comes off at a champion of the people, and has worked his entire career building up an image of an independent force that will not tolerate corruption, a phony front that is fed by us in the media and the misperception that the urge to blurt out inappropriate things is power, when all power comes from the ability to control the wrath and steer it in an effective way.
I kept thinking of that video of him holding an ice cream cone when on the boardwalk at the
Jersey shore, and his
chasing after some critic – his state troopers making any physical
confrontation impossible, Christie’s invulnerability paid for by the state.
The problem with manufactured power like Christie’s is that it can’t last. A man shielded by false pride and misperception becomes an easy target when the pieces of his armor fall away – such as the missing link in the dragon Smaug’s armor into which the hero of The Hobbit shoots his arrow.
Christie has been bullying people for several years, scaring people with a badge he bought with his fundraising efforts for George W. Bush, and for the most park, none were willing to stand up against him, fearing that they might be the next target in some bid rig crime scheme his brilliant staff thought up as the next link in his long term plans to become president of the United States.
Seeing him whine at his press conference this week, squirming to get out from the inevitable Karma his pushing and shoving have brought him, made me realize how unpresidential he had become, and how much more like the bully who threw the deck at me head in high school, unable to control himself but always trying to control others – and this lack of self control that so many found refreshing will deny him long lasting power.
He is not the guy in
but the tank that ran that guy over. And that is sad.
Thursday, January 9, 2014
The change of routine – going to
instead of Bayonne – each day,
hasn’t yet become fixed in my mine.
I’m like an old LP record in which life is inserted in grooves that allow me to function. I start my day at one point and let everything run according to plan, reacting to any sudden bump that might deviate me and cause me to skip something.
Yesterday, I nearly went straight down
Avenue rather than turning back north after the
stop at the train station in Journal Square.
In my trips to
I knew where I could pause and purchase coffee along the way. But with the
shorter, but circular route back to Hoboken,
I’m still confused, partly because I never know what to expect on the lack leg
when the streets converge and we all flow down into the mile square city along
one of two routes – any traffic back up at the Lincoln Tunnel creating a
nightmare of uncertainty.
During back ups I try to look out over the landscape, but the route is clouded with the outstretched limbs of trees, so thick that even in winter without their leaves, the view is obscured.
I constantly ache for the river and the simplicity of an earlier life when I jogged a long the waterway each morning, getting my fill of nature before civilization imposed its will on me.
was an easy stint, a stop in one of several parks before making the trip to the
mid-town office. This became a little more complicated a year or so ago, when
the office moved farther south, and though only a mile farther away, it changed
Small alterations have huge impacts, and I was at a loss for how to make it up in my routine.
Sometimes, bigger changes like the one that transpired at the turn of the year are easier to accept, because they are so abrupt that I’m not lulled into an old, out of date pattern and shocked when at the end, it is no longer valid.
For several years, I stopped to pick up my editor before making the trip south, a routine that allowed me to write in my notebooks as I waited. When she moved on, I struggled to fit that little bit back into my life, and did, but lost that, too, with the extra mile of travel.
The trip is shorter now, and though the job is tougher, a new routine will emerge that will allow all these pieces to fall back into place, providing a season and a time for everything necessary and everything that I need to have, a new record running with new grooves, the music of which only I can hear.
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
This is the time of year we’re all supposed to resolve ourselves to change – making promises to ourselves that we hope to keep.
I’m good for a lot of promises, and then spend the year struggling to make them happen.
But change in my life has always been something that comes upon me whether I intend it or not, the next stumbling step in some direction I vaguely intend to go, an uncertain, precarious step that I am often relieved when the heal and toe find solid ground upon which to land.
It is hugely difficult to resolve anything about anything when each step in life comes as a reaction to what the toe might stumble over or bump into or might jerk back from – life being a process of anticipation and reaction, never a certainty.
Routine – such as my Sunday morning laundry – is a comfort zone, a place of refuge where I can almost predict the future and what to expect, and find more solid ground than during the rest of life where each step is a reaching out into the unknown and the immense relief of landing on something that doesn’t fall out from under me.
Over the long years, no resolution has ever come to fruition except as a backward glance at what I hoped would be, and what I managed to salvage from any promise I made myself when starting out on this trek into and out of the unknown.
What I vow most to accomplish always comes from steps I take inside myself, that constant struggle to make the ticks of the clock inside of me keep pace with the real clicks of the real world – which often as not I have failed to keep time to.
It is a great concept to be that soul who marches to his own tune, but it’s a horrible to be so out of harmony with what actually transpires as to not accept what happens next.
I don’t believe in fate as most people would define it. But I do understand that I need to direct my foot somewhere and be conscious of each step I take to make certain that it lands somewhere solid so that I can take the next step with the confidence of knowing where I’ve been.
Monday, January 6, 2014
The fog fills the dark so thickly that it seems light outside – a wall of mist that rises from the wet ground where the snow has been.
I can hardly breathe as I rise and make my way to the kitchen to perform the morning rituals.
After so many days on and off duty, it seems strange to face a week in which there will be no break – nothing but the newness of a new beat, filled with unfamiliar faces and issues, and this idea that I am the same person who must deal with each.
We live our lives in constant change.
Over the weekend, I talked to a sister I didn’t know I had until recently, and a best friend with whom I had not spoken in years, and this is part of the change of habit – like that old favorite Elvis movie with Mary Tyler Moore in which the change at the end is unresolved.
Love being love means it can’t always been easy.
The man Angel Market where I get the papers each Sunday warned me when I left not to slip on the ice, a bag in one hand with Times vision of the world, and a container of coffee in my other hand to deliver consciousness so I can face the world.
I slipped on the ice anyway, and landed on my back – uninjured. I didn’t even spill the coffee.
But it brings back all the old routines of that time when I made my way through the world in such a condition, for months a few years ago even with a patch over one eye, and prior to that, the daily routine in Montclair of walking to the bus stop, and eating breakfast of buttered roll and coffee while waiting for the bus to arrive for the trip over the Orange Mountains to the warehouse where I worked.
The talk with my friend reminded me of that, too, and how simple life was when we kept thinking there was something to look forward to, some aspiration to drive us, some mission we needed to accomplish in life.
Yesterday reminded me that these subtle things are still important, because at the end of the day, they are what life is: the coffee that doesn’t spill, the buttered roll devoured while waiting for the bus, the unresolved mysteries of the universe only emphasized by the ending credits and the holy-moly Elvis song sung as the film fades.
Saturday, January 4, 2014
The ranting over what amounted to an ordinary snow storm shows how pathetic media has become.
And how much we tend to believe in the hype.
I stopped off at the supermarket after work to get a few cans of cat food and found the aisles mobbed and the check out lines so long I almost gave up and went home without my purchases.
We are suffering from global warming, but not every storm is a super storm that my local radio station (CBS) can exploit.
Sometimes, a storm is just a storm.
But we act as if we might starve if we do not stock up.
I talked to my neighbor about it while shoveling the walk yesterday morning, and she was as appalled by the over reaction as I was.
The problem goes back two decades to that time when the
States first invaded Iraq
and people on this side could not get enough of scud missile reports, glued to
their radios and TVs for a blow by blow account.
This was the first time I noticed the insane need to instant information, and something I believe led to the impact of internet news – a kind of extension of the insane nightly body count we used to get during the evening news during
A rubber necking mentality where we cannot get enough gruesome reports, and cannot get them soon enough.
For the news industry with not enough major events to justify our existence, we have to hype up everything until the real thing comes along.
So every terrorist threat is treated like a new 9/11 and every storm treated like a
This idea that we need to keep people scared scares me, because it suggests manipulation, and an acceptance of the monstrous behavior of groups like the NSA who justify their intrusion into our private lives with the idea that they are keeping us safe.
A scared population serves this group well, because we believe anything they say, hyped up inside with the inner fear that we might not survive the next Sandy or 9/11 when as Freud once pointed out we get our wish for it.
The NSA and other political powers tend to make enemies of us around the world, and then defend us from the enemies they create, and so every snow storm becomes a major tragedy, and every threat becomes an excuse for additional erosion of rights.
I keep thinking of the guy who wanted to put explosives in his shoes, or in his underwear, and how similar it sounded to the plots the CIA used to create to go after Castro in the early 1960s. Sometimes a terrorist is just a terrorist, regardless on whose side he’s on. And sometimes a snow storm is just a snow storm, no matter how much the radio wants it to be something more.
Thursday, January 2, 2014
Thursday, January 02, 2014
I spent New Years’ Day getting rid of stuff, dumping that collection of junk that has mounted up in my closet and work room for years.
This might have been prompted by the calls from my new found family or from my best friend (whom I hadn’t talked to in about a year).
This last year has been startling for a number of reasons, not least the fact that I went from being an only child at the start of 2013 to having three sisters (one adopted), two brothers (who I haven’t yet made contact with) and a host of cousins – one of whom has become extremely close.
I even have a step mom, who I spoke with twice, who gave me further insight into what a scoundrel my father was, something my own dearly departed mother only hinted at on her death bed.
I had been at a loss since early 2012 when the last of my closest family members passed away, with me being the youngest of what some called “the Sarti clan.”
I didn’t fully appreciate what this meant, even though Mrs. Swartz from School No. 11 in Clifton, once referred to me as that during my one year in public school in Clifton. She had taught many of my uncles, and recognized the breed when I came along, even though my last name was technically “Sullivan.”
She was being divisive and yet not without a note of tender regret as if putting up with the Sarti wildness was part of the challenge of teaching that she would miss once I moved out of her care.
In some ways, I was wilder than any of the uncles (who were more like brothers), getting into deeper mischief before actually getting into serious trouble, and somehow coming out on the other side of both unscathed.
The lessons on my father taught me just where I got this wild streak from – a rebellious nature that I barely contain even with age, as if this beast inside of me remains at bay only by whip and chair, items my father apparently lacked especially when drunk.
The last year was a good year for a number of reasons – although it also showed me that I need to get back on track and return to those things that I have long aspired to do.
My friend’s calling a few days before New Year’s also brought that fact home.
“We could have been great,” he told me, referring to the numerous projects we did for fun – music and radio plays, even some videos. “If we had paid more attention to them, we would have gotten somewhere.”
Most of these projects, I pointed out, were done under the influence, and were more self-entertainment than art – the fake radio shows, the odd-mocking operas, the video history of the band, musical score to a film that did not exist, video skits in which I always played some odd character, the science fiction pink Floyd like projects he and I did with guitars and keyboard and many more.
We recorded everything – just as I always did with a written account of my experiences – but many of the tapes were lost over the years, some of which I ache to hear again such as the sessions we had in the uptown apartment in Passaic where we jammed for hours, tracking on a Teac (a tape recorder I sold later for a down payment on a new Pinto).
I have some of these old tapes, and so does he, which is promising. But he wants to go back there, and redo things we can’t find.
Some things can’t be redone, I told him. Some things are special in that moment of inspiration.
The best we can do is to get inspired by the here and now. This has always been true, even back then, when we were keeping a sound record of that moment (the way I keep a written record in my journal) special to that particular moment, filled with the aspirations and the sense of space we felt then. We cannot redo such things. They are of that moment, which is why we needed to put them down on tape or paper or in some other medium.
We always need to capture the moment before it slips away.
Wednesday, January 1, 2014
Wednesday, January 01, 2014
People tend to say “Happy New Year.”
This is most likely because they look ahead to some new beginning that the new year promises.
I’ve never thought of this day that way.
For me the change of year has always been something sad, something left behind.
This is not a case of “could have beens” or “should have beens.” I subscribe wholeheartedly to Lawrence of Arabia’s philosophy “nothing is written” unless I write it.
Still each passing year leaves its own indelible mark on my life, clumps of time that will never come again, to which I know I will later look back with some fondness and yes – to some degree – regret.
Each year’s passing means leaving behind more than just a memory – and though I often promise to keep in touch with some of those who made up that part of my life, I know with some I won’t, and I will instead carry away an out-of-date image of who those people are, my life lived in a moment that has already expired.
This change of year marks a significant shift after a decade working in
– a place I came to love even when each year it became a different place from
the place I inherited a decade ago – just as when I left Secaucus in 2003,
Secaucus was different.
Over the last few years, I needed change, something to jolt me out of routine and into the world again, and yet, finally, when it comes I shudder from the expectation of it.
Change may be good, but it is also uncomfortable.
On this day of every year, I tend to look back to each of the clumps and the people who were deeply involved in my life. I look back at those who got left behind – this year Ralph, and Eddie, and others who I shall not see again in this world.
I reunited with my best friend, Pauly, one of three companions I hung with over the long years though had lost touch with over the last two. He could not remember the year Hank died, a date and time I cannot shed from my mind.
Some of us are born to keep records of the world, not the history of civilizations, but that of people who love or even hate, those history might consider insignificant, but are hugely significant in my life and the texture of life as we know it – the every day people whose struggle is what life is all about, the happiness and sadness, the accomplishments and yes, the disappointments.
These are the things worth recalling, and keeping alive.
I keep thinking about the Comet Shoe repair shop in Bayonne I went into during the first months on the Bayonne beat, and Erwin’s Department Store, and Hyman’s Shoes – bits and pieces of a past that should not have existed even when I encountered them, but had somehow waited for my arrival before they passed on.
I miss them, and the people associated with all such places, because they take with them something that we can never get back a living memory of times and places that only they possess, and cannot fully convey even to recorders of personal history like me.
Some people become monumental in my life, and I tend to pay more attention to them than others, but even the small stories, the brief encounters, that look on the street are precious to me, and linger inside of me long after the reality has vanished.
This is the day of the year when we take notice of the changes that go on around us everyday. For me, it is a bitter-sweet day in that I am leaving behind in the old year as much as I expect to gain in the new one.